Shudder Movie is a fun horror DIY
A hooded body hangs from a tree, women surrounding it with stern Puritan faces; someone firmly holds the rope stretched through the tree, making sure the neck snaps into place. The women gaze at the horizon of the forest dotted with trees, the corpse hanging in the center of it all. Except he doesn’t seem dead — a boot twitches first, then the head, before the whole body shakes and twists in the air.
A woman pulls out a gun and shoots at the dangling body, blood gushing in the mist, but it keeps twitching. She shoots it again and again, the women watching in horror until she runs out of bullets. A woman pulls out a knife and approaches the body but before she can do anything it is engulfed in flames and soars into the sky like some kind of rocket with a burning, screaming face. Hard rock burst onto the soundtrack as the word master of hell flashes white and red, alternating between this spelling and the stylized H6llb6nd6r. To be set on fire.
Mother, Daughter, Thrill
The film Shudder immediately cuts to two women suddenly stepping out, garage-rock style as if it were their own concert film. “Heavy and fast is our thing,” said one. The older guitarist has big black x’s over her eyes, while the younger drummer has painted on black teardrops. Meet Izzy and the aptly named mother, a mother and daughter duo in almost every sense of the word. They play quasi-metal music together and seem to have only friends, living together in a remote house in the mountains that would make Henry David Thoreau jealous.
Izzy doesn’t go to school, she’s been told she’s sick and can’t be around people, both a nod to COVID and the theme of isolation. Sometimes she seems like a charming and relatively average young girl, but other times this lack of socialization and other odd behavior creeps into the conversation. “How was your day?” Mother asks.
“I went hunting.”
“A laugh. But, it was a ghost.”
Mother obviously cares a lot about her, in a really loving but overprotective way. “I like making you happy,” she told Izzy. She keeps her strictly away from society, especially men, and does not bring her on rare trips to town. Mom doesn’t seem to work, but spends her time foraging in the woods and crafting strange totems. On the one hand, she ties wooden sticks with her own hair, fills her hands with berries and mushrooms, then suddenly oozes a black blood-like mixture from her mouth as if from a beak directly on his jugular. She’s hiding something from Izzy.
Adams Family Values
Partly due to COVID restrictions, partly due to budgetary reasoning, Izzy and Mother are two of the only characters in master of hell, and their intimacy and natural connection feel organic and deeply personal. It’s because it’s – Izzy is played by Zelda Adams, and Mother is played by, well, her own mother, Toby Poser. They also produced, wrote, shot, edited and directed the film with John Adams, Poser’s husband and Zelda’s father. In fact, Zelda’s sister, Lulu Adams, plays one of the film’s few other characters (just like John Adams).
The Adams Family (cue the jokes) is a unique film collaboration. Zelda has appeared in her parents’ films since she was six years old, but it was their most recent horror films where the young actor joined his parents in sharing their creative vision. With The deeper you dig and now master of hellthe Adams have announced themselves as a new force in horror, earning a glowing New York Times profile and a 100% Rotten Tomatoes score (as of Feb. 21) for this new film.
Their DIY aesthetic is charming and inspiring, though one wonders what the Adams could do on a real budget and have been able to transcend the confines of lo-fi cinema and Shudder streaming; would they stop doing everything themselves, or is that part of the process? Maybe it’s for the best, because master of hell oozes charm more easily than witches’ mouths ooze black blood, which they do a lot. Izzy and Mother are Hellbenders, a strange mythology developed by the Adams who are matrilineal, monstrous, and largely asexual supernatural beings who blend in pretty well with society (at least when in control). The problem is, Izzy doesn’t know she’s one and mom doesn’t want it, but can nature be removed?
Nature versus nurture
Nature versus nurture is a strong theme in the film Shudder master of hell, one that’s explored rather beautifully amongst the natural order of mountain streams and wooded plateaus of the Catskill Mountains, and one that’s rather ironic considering Zelda Adams’ embrace of the cinema her parents love so much. Mother keeps Izzy away from the world and refuses to reveal her true nature because nature can often be as horrible as Hellbenders themselves. Hellbender matriphagy is reflected throughout the animal kingdom, where insects and scorpions eat their own relatives, unlike the typical infanticide of many other animals (including the true hellbender salamander, which cannibalizes its young). “Spring eats summer,” say Izzy and Mom, “summer eats fall, fall eats winter, and winter eats spring.” Nature is deadly.
Mother does her best to keep Izzy away from any knowledge of her true nature, nurturing her with kindness and overprotectiveness, but nature has a way of shining, and when repressed often emerges deadlier than ever. Izzy’s curiosity develops into the slightly rebellious act of searching for a group of friends despite Mother’s warnings; prohibitions, after all, tend to create desire, especially parental. When vegan Izzy eats the worm, her first taste of blood, from a glass of tequila, she lets out a blood-chilling scream that begins the gradual revelation of her own nature. Her curiosity pushes her to discover the secret book of the Hellbenders, a kind of witches’ bible, and she longs to understand what she is.
The Adams explore all of this in extremely unique and iconoclastic ways. Between hard rock interludes, quiet character development, surprisingly gory moments, and delight in the natural (and spooky) splendor of the world, master of hell indulges in a myriad of psychedelic and kaleidoscopic imagery. Artfully edited and shot, these trippy moments are part fever dream and part witches nightmare. They use expert drone shots to mimic the perspective of God’s eye, adding to the otherworldly air of things, and effectively adjust the film’s color and contrast. These are some of the craziest moments in this already deliciously weird film.
Thrill to think
master of hell also completes its narrative with beautiful, haunting shots of the woods and mountains as the score plays sounds of dread. The film’s score is excellent, helping to create a sense of dread as Hellbender’s suppressed nature must be fought, while Izzy and Mother’s hard rock is fun and minimalistic. The music is also created by the family (of their band H6llb6end6r), because of course it is: every aspect of the image was taken care of by the Adams with care. This feeling that everything is the direct result of family work gives master of hell a very specific personality, which can sometimes be hard to find in this age of horror boom, where every week sees the new release of a seemingly hot new movie.
Shudder is partly responsible for this horror excess, giving fans and filmmakers a platform for the endless array of new films. The streaming service has taken off recently, thanks to greater investment in new and original productions combined with the availability of more obscure scares. With this influx of horror, many films are bound to remain anonymous in the sea of mediocrity, due to the vast plethora of Shudder films, many with very low budgets and by rookie or amateur filmmakers. Don’t make a mistake, master of hell is a low-budget film, with many of the same attributes as DIY projects; if great polished horror movies are looking for, Netflix has the Chainsaw Massacre reboot, but these types of projects often lack the charm and creative freedom of indie images like this.
The thrill is released master of hell on February 24, and it’s another in a series of interesting and acclaimed films picked up by the service, including The last thing Mary saw and Seed. It may be a somewhat lo-fi and rough film, but its energy and dynamism are contagious. Its subtle feminism, intimate coming-of-age drama, gritty horror, and mind-blowing visuals combine to create a thoroughly enthusiastic film made by people who obviously love what they do. Watch the Adams master of hell could make anyone want to be part of the family.
Witches have come a long way from the old women living in the forest. From horror to comedy, here are the best witch stories published in the 21st century.
About the Author